by Jay Traugott
The Audi TT Roadster enters its second year of the third TT generation for the year 2018. It may not be considered the traditionalist's open-top sports car, but it has an appeal unique to it alone. Its iconic Bauhaus-inspired design put it on the map when it was first introduced to the market, and has managed to prevail within the contemporary styling adaptations as its evolution has brought it into the new year. Along with its unique aesthetic, enthusiasts are offered a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot engine powering the quattro all-wheel-drive system with 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The TT Roadster is a well-rounded daily sports car with up-to-the-minute design and tech features, as well as a balanced drive; but with the venerable Mazda MX-5 on the cheaper side of the lot, and the 370Z Convertible more closely aligned, there's still plenty more for the TT to prove.
The Audi TT Roadster rides into 2018 mechanically and cosmetically unchanged, but with a few newly added features and available options. Front and rear parking sensors have been made standard on the Roadster while a 12-speaker, 680 watt Bang & Olufsen Sound System has been added to the available Technology Package. A new, S Line Competition Package is added to the options repertoire list for the 2018 TT Roadster.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The Audi TT is discernible by its signature single-frame grille, classic Bauhaus-inspired wheel arches, and chunky bodywork, all brought together by its sophisticated styling and hints of sporty aggression. The Roadster is further differentiated by its power-operated fabric soft top and frameless windows. As standard, the TT Roadster rides on 18-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels and is fitted with all-LED exterior lighting with criss-cross LED daytime running lights.
The TT Roadster shares the same dimensions as its coupe counterpart. It measures 165 inches in length, 53.4 inches in height, 77.4 inches in width, and rides on a wheelbase measuring 98.6 inches. With a curb weight of 3,395 lbs, the TT Roadster is heavier than the coupe model by a full 187 lbs.
Off-the-line, there's seemingly little oomph from the base TT's 220 horsepower 2.0-liter engine, but with 258 lb-ft of turbocharged torque, there's plenty of low to mid-range impetus once you're rolling. Driving around the city streets and pulling swift highway overtaking maneuvers are the TT Roadster's forte. Its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission could do with an extra gear to level out the TT's cruising revs, but otherwise, it's reliably slick-shifting and smooth. While the powertrain's lively throttle responses are nicely balanced with its efficiency, it lacks the blunt force that makes many of its class rivals more capable and more enjoyable to drive.
The TT Roadster's front-mounted engine, quattro all-wheel-drive setup, and sturdy chassis imbue it with some impressive handling traits. It doesn't quite fit the sports car persona in terms of capability, but short of the track, is near perfect in its dynamics. Casual everyday driving maneuvers are executed with poise, and the chassis stays composed and easily controlled through sharp turns and high-speed bends. Mechanical grip and traction are high at all four corners, and consistently so thanks to the front-wheel-biased AWD system, keeping the TT Roadster firmly planted to the asphalt. Its steering isn't very communicative of road-feel or tire position, however, but responses are precise and weighting suitably determined by the drive modes and speed; easy and light at low speeds and firming up for controlled maneuvers at higher ranges. With its impressive handling exposed, you'd expect its ride comfort to have taken some significant compromise - but that's not the case. Most road imperfections and typical undulations are suitably absorbed, making the Roadster a highly livable daily companion.
The TT Roadster's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot is competitively economical, and appealingly so considering its grunt. The TT Roadster returns 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined; fill its 14.5-gallon gas tank to the brim and it'll only need a refill after around 377 miles of typical driving. Regular unleaded fuel is recommended for use in the TT.
The TT Roadster is fitted with only two seats, sticking to typical roadster design and losing the +2 arrangement of the coupe. The seats are sportily contoured and bolstered to provide suitable support, but are designed more so with comfort in mind; ample padding, versatile power-adjustability, and with heating functions included. Head and legroom are suitable in the TT, but are not class-leading, with more overall room offered in the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Ingress and egress into and out of the TT Roadster are effortless, albeit a low-slung and compact vehicle. The driver's position and in-cabin ergonomics are hallmarks of the TT Roadster, with the virtual cockpit placing vital info within the driver's direct line of sight. Outward visibility is clear and a rearview camera mitigates any rearward hindrance of the convertible soft top.
As with most compact luxury roadsters, practicality is far from being a prioritized element, and the same is true for the TT Roadster. Trunk capacity is capped at 7.5 cubic feet, 4.5 less than in the coupe but enough room for two movie-prop style suspicious-looking black suitcases. Unlike most convertibles, the TT Roadster's soft-top favorably doesn't impede on trunk space - you get the same 7.5 cubes whether the roof is up or down. The trunk floor is rather shallow but the aperture is practically wide, making for easy cargo loading. In-cabin stowage consists of usable door side pockets, an average-sized passenger-side glovebox, a concealed storage cubby above the gear selector, and a single cupholder between the seats.
The TT Roadster is well outfitted as a premium offering and is predominantly driver-focused in its features. At its base level, there's keyless entry and ignition, heated auto-dimming mirrors, 12-way power-adjustable sports seats with heating, automatic climate control, and selectable drive modes. The three-spoke multi-function sport steering wheel features rear-mounted paddle shifters and a tilt and telescoping steering column. While the Roadster gets no rear seats, there is a ski-pass to the trunk along with a convertible fabric roof, roll hoops, and a power-deployable wind blocker. The only standard driver-assists include front and rear parking sensors and an integrated rearview camera. Blind-spot assist is available within one of the optional packages.
Audi makes use of a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit located in place of typical instrumentation, which takes care of traditional infotainment systems conventionally mounted on the dash. All the car's vital stats along with navigation and infotainment controls are displayed via the virtual cockpit display. Audi's MMI infotainment software utilized in the setup is intuitive and more user-friendly than many of the alternate user-interfaces out there. It comprises a trace pad with handwriting recognition software for intuitive driver inputs. There's voice control functionality, Bluetooth connectivity, and satellite radio. A nine-speaker audio system is standard along with two USB ports for smartphone charging and connectivity. The optional Technology Package comprises navigation, a brilliant 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen surround sound system, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality.
The 2018 Audi TT Roadster has been subject to one recall for its fuel hose quick connector that could potentially detach from the fuel supply line in the engine bay, resulting in a fuel leak. The TT is tried-and-trusted aside from this, receiving a predicted reliability rating of three out of five from J.D. Power. The TT Roadster is covered by a four-year/50,000 mile basic and powertrain warranty.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated the Audi TT Roadster for its crashworthiness. Though the standard inclusion of parking sensors is appreciated, the TT Roadster is still considerably lacking in standard active safety and advanced driver-assists. A standard-fit rearview camera is the only other driver aid while blind-spot monitoring is optional. Other standard features include six airbags - dual front, front side/head, and two knee airbags.
The TT Roadster is fun to drive, its economical, and well-equipped with advanced features, making it a favorably well-rounded everyday sports car. It may not be as lively or involving as many of the other sports cars out there, such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it still displays performance and handling proficiency at a highly enjoyable level, all while giving the benefit of luxurious top-down cruising. It's comfortable on the road and its powertrain is fitting for its purpose as a luxury drop-top with a turn of pace. High-quality materials adorn one of the most comfortable cabins around, while the virtual cockpit is a groundbreaking element, augmenting the cabin's intuitive and driver-centric design and delivering something unique to the entire industry. The TT Roadster isn't a perfect product, however, with limited driver assists and a sterile manner it which it goes about dismantling corners. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are also not standard and have to be added at an additional cost. But at the end of the day, there are few cars that make top-down driving as luxurious as the TT does.
With an MSRP of $47,450, the 2018 Audi TT Roadster is somewhat on the pricier side of things, taking into account that Audi's processing, handling, and delivery charge of $975 is not included as well as any tax, registration, or licensing fees. Most trims from the directly comparable Nissan 370Z Roadster are cheaper, with the esteemed Mazda MX-5 Miata slots in well below the $30k mark.
With only the single model making up the 2018 lineup (TT S aside), there is no decision to be made other than what packages to include. Seeing as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility are not standard in the TT Roadster, we suggest adding the Technology Package which, along with those functionalities, includes navigation, blind-spot monitoring, and a premium 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen surround sound system. For a sportier appeal, we also suggest adding the newly available S Line Competition Package, which equips the TT Roadster with 19-inch Audi Sport black alloy wheels, red brake calipers, summer performance tires, a fixed rear spoiler, S Line sport-tuned suspension, flat-bottom multifunction steering wheel, a neck-level heating system, and Audi's high-gloss black package.
Nine years into its cycle and the 370Z prevails without any major redesigns or overhauls. Propped alongside the TT Roadster, its age sticks out like a sore thumb. Its acceleration may be matched to that of the TT on paper, but the Nissan's engine is old and unrefined, and the TT's turbocharger gives it a broader range of consistent abilities. The TT Roadster also rides and handles better with a fine symbiosis of casual and sporty drivability, while the 370Z is weak in both. Showing its age, the Nissan is devoid of modern infotainment and tech, has no compatibility with Apple CarPlay, and lacks most driver aids and safety features. The 370Z's pricing range may be far lower than that of the TT Roadster's, but comparatively, it is far less of a premium package. As Barney Stinson would say, new is always better, and the TT Roadster proves this in every regard when compared alongside the 370Z.
The MX-5 Miata is substantially cheaper than the TT Roadster - in fact, it's nearly half the price - but it doesn't offer as much as the TT in terms of luxury or outright performance. What it does provide, is a whole lot more fun from behind the wheel. Inherently lively, capable, and highly engaging, the Miata offers even more interaction with an available manual transmission. It is, however, far less of a practical daily commuter, with only 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space offered along with a highly compact cabin. Comfort is also hurt by the Miata's compact size, with exterior noise permeating through to the cabin significantly, even with the top-up. Nevertheless, the Miata is a really affordable way to get your hands on a compact sports car, one boasting a manual gearbox and rear-wheel-drive, traits that arguably make it the most enjoyable one currently on sale. Any sports car enthusiasts will pick the MX-5 without hesitation, but the TT Roadster wouldn't be a remorseful choice either, appealing in its own way as a design icon and technological feat. It all comes down to priorities - do you want driver thrills or top-down luxury?